On my radar: Born free or free fall?

2013-06-09 14:00

What kind of adults will today’s youngsters be in 2030?

As Youth Day approaches, the annual bottleneck starts taking place across all media channels.

Politicians start channelling their inner beauty queens to regurgitate the tired old platitude about nurturing the youth “because they are our future”.

The older generation is encouraged to “celebrate” our youth, acknowledge their potential and give them hope for the future.

In reality though, we prefer to “tut-tut” about the youth’s failures – apathy and narcissism being the most satisfying itches to scratch. By the end of June (South Africa’s Youth Month), we move on, reassured that we’ve “done our bit” for the youth.

The harsh reality is that in South Africa there is little to celebrate. The proverbial “ticking time bomb” regarding youth issues is real – as the sidebar reveals.

Add to those statistics the fact that South Africa has an extreme youth bulge (the global benchmark of a youth bulge is 40% of the population, whereas we have 60%) and the problems are amplified.

Most South Africans are painfully aware of the social problems we face as a nation, and many of these problems impact directly on our youth: HIV/Aids, teen pregnancies, child-headed households, rape and abuse, gangsterism, drugs, lack of education and disturbingly high rates of youth unemployment

(currently hovering at 50%).

Lumped together in one sentence, it is pretty depressing, which is why these problems are easy to objectify and are simply used as dinner-party or coffee-break conversation fodder.

But what we seem to ignore is the interconnectivity of these problems, their cyclic nature and, more importantly, the root cause: the ­broken-family syndrome, which is so prevalent in South Africa.

In most cases, the social problems we see are manifestations of coping mechanisms brought about by trauma because trauma is not only physical – as it is more commonly perceived – but for many young South Africans, emotional.

Dysfunctional or absent parenting is considered to be a primary “trauma” for any child, the residual of which is always carried in the subconscious.

But besides the psychological ­impact of this perceived neglect or abandonment, if a young child does not receive the support or guidance from positive familial role models, especially during crucial developmental stages of his or her young life, what then is the ripple effect in adulthood?

This is what the 2030 Youth ­Report from Flux Trends attempts to explore.

In South Africa, many young ­people do not have the support systems all children should have ­growing up.

Owing to our past, broken-family syndrome is embedded into our ­society as a way of life. The domino effect of complex historical issues, such as migrant workforces and ­political displacement, are further exacerbated by our patriarchal ­society and outdated cultural ­practices.

From a very young age, many South Africans are wise beyond their years, but not in a good way. They have seen and suppressed things no one should.

Furthermore, there is often distrust for figures of authority like the police, which is why rape and abuse is so underreported. Trauma has become the norm.

Without a supportive and ­educative environment, young ­children cannot heal this trauma outside of the family unit and so, in turn, often act out destructive or risky behaviour to compensate.

This adopted behaviour is often modelled on the same behaviour their parents displayed (a much-tracked sociological phenomenon) and can translate, for example, into sexual violence in young men or the inability to see sex as something other than some sort of transaction – rather than love – in young girls.

It is a vicious cycle that keeps ­repeating itself.

This report focuses particularly on adolescents because they are in a particularly crucial stage of their development, not only physically but emotionally.

It is the natural phase of human identity development: when adolescents look outside the family for alternative attachments.

As a society, we have reached ­another tipping point. I say “another” because Youth Day marks the anniversary of the 1976 Soweto ­riots. That young generation was exposed to political protest, which was, more often than not, violent.

It is the same generation who today express their displeasure by using violent protest – another cycle of learnt behaviour repeating itself.

In a country with a divided ­economy, it is easy to live in a bubble and assume our problems are “someone else’s problems”.

But whether you are a concerned citizen or working in a corporation or in government, today’s social problems affecting our youth not only determine the healthy evolution of our society, but the bottom line of business – in terms of consumers as well as the workforce.

No one wins when there is a 50% unemployment rate.

The time for blame games or ­politicking has passed. The time to intervene is now.

The challenges

Broken-family syndrome

»?The Institute of Race Relations recently confirmed only one-third of children live with both parents.

»?At least 60% of black South African children are growing up without fathers.

»?At least 8% of South African children live in “skip generation” households – in other words, brought up by grandparents or grandaunts and granduncles.

»?According to the Social Profile of South Africa Report 2011/12, approximately 35% of children lived in households with no employed family members.

»?There are currently 3.28?million Aids orphans in South Africa.

Rape and abuse

»?A girl has a one in three chance of finishing secondary school and a one in two chance of being raped.

»?As many as 30% of schoolgirls in Joburg have experienced sexual assault.

»?At least 40% of police dockets in Gauteng indicate victims are children.

Lack of education

»?This year, 322?644 children are not in school despite being of school-going age. On average, about 4% of children between six and 15 don’t attend school in South Africa.

»?A recent national numeracy test indicates only 15% of schoolchildren will have basic reading, writing and numeracy skills by the time they leave primary school.

»?Last year, only 511?152 pupils wrote matric exams, but only 377?829 pupils passed. About 1.1?million pupils started Grade 1 in 2001.

»?For the past few years, an average of half a million children consistently fall through the cracks each year and do not complete school.

Early offenders

A 2011/12 study at 41 prisons found:

»?Juveniles are detained for 120 days awaiting trial;

»?Children of school-going age are sentenced to two years and denied education;

»?At least 39% received no visits for three months; and

»?Children are locked in cells for

23 hours a day.

»?Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. The Flux Trends 2030 Youth Report: Born Free or Free Fall? is being launched on June 12. For more information, visit www.fluxtrends.com

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